Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Personal Responsibility, the NFL, and Getting Screwed Over

In the wake of the announcement of the lawsuit against the NFL, it's become popular for ESPN's in-house ex-player contingent to dismiss the suit's claimants as, essentially, whiny babies. The meme, stated memorably by Mark Schlereth, is that a player should take responsibility for what was done to him while he played, and by suing, these guys are trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

Which is nonsense, because you can only really take responsibility for the actions you take that you are aware of. If all of those played, from Dent to McMahon, had been perfectly aware of what was going on, what drugs they were being injected with, what their medical conditions actually were, and what those drugs were going to do to them and still decided to go forward, well, yes. The onus is on them.

But that's not what the lawsuit is about. The allegations are chilling: players not told that they had broken bones. Players doped up with drugs without their knowledge or consent, and without knowledge of the possible side effects. Players whose names were used to acquire prescription drugs without their knowledge or consent (which, last time I checked, was kind of a felony). The players are alleging, not that they're changing their minds about what they did to stay on the field, but that they didn't have the right information to make as to whether they should be on the field, and that they're dealing with the consequences of these bad-faith decisions now, decades later.

You can take responsibility for saying "Doc, gimme a shot and get me back out there 'cause the team needs me, and there's a rookie who wants my job". It's the doctor who should be taking responsibility for saying "That's six Toradols in the space of a week, and it's going to turn your kidneys into Krispy Kreme donuts". It's the team that should be taking responsibility for telling the doctor to get the player on the field no matter what and not telling him about that slight fracture in his clavicle, which is causing the pain that requires the shot. It's the NFL that should be taking responsibility for an ongoing culture of treating players as disposable and dismissing concerns for their safety (see also: concussions)

Personal responsibility is a wonderful thing, and more people should try it. But to use it to shame others into accepting the blame for decisions made for them by other people, with what can only be described as heartless intent, is to give in to survivor guilt and blame the victim. Maybe you didn't get those illegal shots, Mr. Schlereth. Or maybe when something goes wrong you'll remember an afternoon in the trainer's office, and a needle, and your take on the situation will change.

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